COVID and Contemplation

life

There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you think, is there?

I mean, I assume. I wasn’t around during the Spanish flu.

I’m a constant thinker by nature – I’m going to assume that it’s in my genetic makeup, because I can promise that I have tried and failed since I was a small child to get my brain to shut the hell up for once. Over time, you just kind of accept that there’s never a break in your internal monologue, so you eventually just start trying to get some use out of it.

I already feel every moment of my life that I should be thinking about something – about my life, my future, my relationship, the ways of the world, the impermanence of life and power, the fragility of capitalism, and so on into deeper waters that I don’t really want to plunge into here, or I’ll never get a moment’s peace. So it’s only logical that when the pandemic hit and I was relegated into semi-permanent isolation in my apartment that I would do a lot of contemplating, particularly over what I wanted with my own life, because life for me since I was a kid has been figuring out how to achieve The Dream.

Oh, I know I’m not the first millennial to write about how The Dream is no longer achievable. Skyrocketing cost of living, stagnant wages, political apathy – the unholy trifecta that has created a new normal in which most millennials outside of the tech sphere cannot hope to achieve what most of our predecessors consider to be “normal.” Health insurance? Nah. A home you own, instead of rent? Nope. Retirement? Try again.

We are striving for normalcy in a world that is no longer (and probably never really was) normal.

Again, I’m not here to delve into how this is the new normal. What I’ve come to realize, in my six or so (I lost count) weeks of sheltering in place, is that I might be guilty of still trying to pursue The Dream, and I use “guilty” quite deliberately. I’ve long since accepted that my path to The Dream is far different than the path my parents and grandparents took. But I’m only now realizing that the destination has changed, too. The Dream no longer exists. The problem is we haven’t created anything to replace it.

We are in a steakhouse asking for the vegetarian options. Yeah, they’re probably there, but every single one of them is an afterthought, and none of them are very good. So why are we still trying to eat there?

We can get into the specifics about how the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything the privileged believed about capitalism, and revealed what the unprivileged already knew to be true, but it would be pointless. What COVID-19 did was sandblast away the last few layers of gilded plating to reveal a world made of lead and asbestos, and with it, any delusion that we could ever have of living on that world as we did before, including my own. Yes, I’ve already accepted that I will never be content holding a conventional 9-5 job and I managed to find happiness in my small bit of unconventionality, working as a writer. I assumed my determination to travel was going to be a weekend gig, something I could wedge in between drafts and final edits – furniture in my house, rather than the foundations. I figured that I was just taking a different path towards the same destination, something I desperately wanted to believe was still there, waiting for me.

It’s not. I’ve accepted it

When the pandemic ends, we’ll never be able to unlearn what we’ve learned from it. We can’t go back to the world that existed before it struck, because that world died drowning in its own fluids. It’s buried in a mass grave next to The Dream.

And where The Dream died, there is merely a void that very few of us have tried to build on. Maybe that’s our own fault, for living under the delusion that we could raise it from the dead like some benevolent zombie (Jesus?!). All I know is, I have no idea what to build there, and I suspect very few of us really do.

Perhaps that’s something I’ll have to contemplate for the next six or so weeks. My brain never shuts up anyway.

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